"I don't feel normal. I don't feel like me."
As we talked, I asked her what she felt "normal" was. She told me about a time when she could do everything for herself, and used to run church groups. I asked my friend how long ago that had been, and we agreed it was about 15 years ago. "You've changed a lot since then, but not all of it's bad." She had new friends and had the joy of seeing her grandsons grow and start lives of their own. Many of the worries she had then, weren't an issue now. She'd learned and grown.
She had a new normal.
The "n" in care partner is for normal.
What is normal? In 1998, Patsy Clairmont first told us Normal is Just a Setting on Your Dryer. What a relief it was to learn that it's okay to not fit into society's little box. It was freeing at the time, yet we still seek "normal" in our lives.
Normal changes. When my kids were babies, normal was to be up half the night and and sleep-deprived during the day. When they were teenagers, normal was worrying when they weren't home.
Although those were special times, no part of me wants that "normal" back. I've changed, and I wouldn't have the energy for babies or teenagers any more.
If you are elderly, especially if you are in frail health, your normal can change in a flash and the change tilts your world. Maybe it will return to to "normal" or maybe a new normal will emerge. Sometimes you barely have a chance to figure out the new normal before it's changed again.
One of my residents was finishing her lunch. She got up, and as she reached for her walker, she turned and lost her balance. The fall that resulted tilted her world. A broken hip, and arm, surgery, rehab and months of recovery. Thankfully, her world has adjusted to it's pre-fall state, but the tilt was dramatic and harrowing for her.
As a care partner, finding normal can be a never-ending quest.
Here's my five suggestions when looking for normal.
1) Be flexible. Realise that life changes, people change and things will never be exactly as they have been. And that's okay. Look for the fun and the joy in what today brings. As a care partner, you can quietly grieve some of the losses, but determine to look for and celebrate the joy that today brings. If you are honest, there were times when the old "normal" wasn't that great.
2) Find some normal. In the midst of change, look for some memories or familiar objects that bring a sense of comfort. A picture, a favourite chair, a painting, a photo album full of precious memories. An activity you used to like to do together that is still possible. A little normal can make a whole lot of change easier to deal with.
3) Expect change. I have seen care partners and family members stress over change and try desperately to make things the way they were, when their loved one has changed and doesn't care about that any more. "She always loved to do crafts. Make sure to involve her when you are doing crafts." The person did love crafts in a different season of their lives. Now they would rather sit and look out the window or feel the fresh breezes in the garden. Everyone has interests that change as they get older.
4) When you "get it," help your family members. There's always one in a family, and often more, who lag behind in wishing Mom would be like she used to be, or worse, feeling that Mom is gone because she isn't "normal." Help them to see the beauty in the person who is there now.
5) Express to your loved one how you are enjoying who they are today. Even with cognitive impairment, elders know they aren't who they used to be. Your job is to recognise that and celebrate who they are today. Look for their wisdom and learn from them. Listen to their stories, even if you have heard them before.
Every day is a gift and normal is highly over-rated.
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Care Partner Wednesday--What is Normal?